'It's a No-Brainer': NYC and SF Tech Workers Move to LA for Sun, Space and Cheaper Rent During the Pandemic

Ben Bergman

Ben Bergman is the newsroom's senior finance reporter. Previously he was a senior business reporter and host at KPCC, a senior producer at Gimlet Media, a producer at NPR's Morning Edition, and produced two investigative documentaries for KCET. He has been a frequent on-air contributor to business coverage on NPR and Marketplace and has written for The New York Times and Columbia Journalism Review. Ben was a 2017-2018 Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economic and Business Journalism at Columbia Business School. In his free time, he enjoys skiing, playing poker, and cheering on The Seattle Seahawks.

'It's a No-Brainer': NYC and SF Tech Workers Move to LA for Sun, Space and Cheaper Rent During the Pandemic

Editor's note: This is the first of a two-part series. Read the second part here: The exodus from L.A. Tech workers who traded cramped one-bedroom apartments by the ocean for 4-bedroom houses in Las Vegas.

Roger DaSilva, who grew up in New Jersey and lived in New York for two decades, long dreamed about trading the honking horns and gridlock of Manhattan for the sand and ocean breezes of Manhattan Beach.

"When I would visit L.A., it just felt like a different country with the people, the easy going nature, and the genuine friendliness of the people," said DaSilva. "It's that laid back vibe, and I love the beach and the sun."

But there was one thing stopping the move. DaSilva is an outsourced chief financial officer so he can work from anywhere, but his wife works at an advertising agency, which required her to be in the New York office full-time. Then COVID-19 hit and the DaSilva's could work from anywhere. In June, they listed their Murray Hill three-bedroom home and rented a house in Venice Beach while they searched for something more permanent.

"If it weren't for COVID, we would still be in New York," DaSilva said.

The DaSilvas are one of more than a dozen professionals interviewed by dot.LA who suddenly found themselves untethered to offices during the pandemic and decided to abandon their cramped apartments in emptied out New York and San Francisco to finally realize their dream of living by the beach. They cited a mix of personal and professional reasons for moving – a growing tech scene, relatively more affordable housing, and the ability to live a better lifestyle.

To be sure, more people are leaving Los Angeles than arriving during the pandemic, accelerating a yearslong trend of migration to cheaper cities such as Las Vegas, Phoenix and Sacramento. But for those coming from New York or San Francisco who are wealthy enough to afford million dollar-plus mortgages, L.A. still offers a relative bargain. According to Zillow, the median home value in San Francisco is $1,447,191 and the median rental price in San Francisco is $4,500 compared to $752,508 for homes in Los Angeles and $3,500 for rentals.

Nick Dowdle, growth product manager at the real estate startup ZeroDown, was shelling out $2,400 a month to rent a cramped room in a three bedroom townhouse in San Francisco's trendy Castro District until recently moving to Marina Del Rey. He is now spending $2,100 a month to rent his own one-bedroom in a luxury complex that includes a pool, hot tub and outdoor gym.

"It's a no-brainer," said Dowdle. "My productivity has gone up and I've been happier. If I have to work from home, I'd rather be somewhere warm and sunny."

Feverish demand, driven by the likes of Dowdle and DaSilva, has driven L.A. asking prices up by 17% from a year ago, twice the average increase nationwide.

"Prices are growing like never before," said Taylor Marr, lead economist at Redfin. "There is a massive price appreciation in what sellers can ask for."

Ferocious bidding wars have returned and realtors say they are getting so much interest from New Yorkers that they can hardly keep up, especially on the city's more prosperous Westside.

"It's as if as soon as COVID-19 hit everyone wanted to flee New York," said Nina Kubicek, a global luxury realtor at Coldwell Banker. "We couldn't believe how inundated we got this year with a flood of New Yorkers and East Coast clients that either want to lease or purchase here."

In typical years, Kubicek says she would receive calls from New Yorkers every few months, but now it is several a week and she is forced to turn down clients. "I have never been this busy in 16 years of doing this," she said, a far cry from the doomsday slowdown she and others in the real estate industry expected after the pandemic struck in March. "In May, I started getting slammed."

Even though New York now has a significantly lower number of COVID cases than Los Angeles, former New Yorkers say the virus had a much bigger impact on the quality of their day-to-day lives.

"It seems like the most cliché thing to say, but I feel like a more healthy person," said Ajay Mehta, a tech founder who moved from New York to Echo Park during the pandemic. "I've been running a ton outside and cooking more since I have a bigger kitchen."

"I had a tiny one-bedroom on the Lower East Side and being stuck in there would have been so depressing," continued Mehta. He lived in New York for a decade and dreaded the prospect of enduring another winter, especially during the pandemic. "I have a nice, airy apartment here. And it's much easier to be socially distant."

Los Angeles has long been criticized, especially by New Yorkers, for being too spread out and car dependent. But during COVID-19, instead of a liability, L.A.'s vastness has become an advantage while New York's density is a liability.

"With the lockdown there was so much closed in New York," said Joshua Coiro, an analytical lead at Google, who moved with his wife from Brooklyn to Santa Monica in August. "You don't have a car. You're relying on public transportation. It felt really dire."

Coiro plans to eventually return to New York, but he says he and his wife saw COVID-19 as the chance to try something new. "In this current environment it seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up," he said. "We're not even a month in but we're loving it. The people and the vibe is different from what you experience in the Northeast."

Continuing a trend from last year, L.A. was the most common destination for New Yorkers leaving the city from May to August, according to data from United Van Lines. Redfin estimates 4.6% of New Yorkers leaving the city went to L.A. during the second quarter of this year, up from 3.9% in the first quarter, according to Redfin data. That is hardly a dramatic shift, but Marr says it still means an influx of tens of thousands of residents.

"That can translate to a big impact," he said. "L.A. has consistently been the top spot for people leaving the Bay Area, battling with Seattle. What we have seen over time is a little bit of an acceleration of these trends."

Moving for Career Reasons

Aside from the weather and the beach, some who have moved during the pandemic were drawn to L.A. for more than a lifestyle upgrade – they thought L.A. with its burgeoning tech scene would be a better place for their careers. COVID-19 made the decision easier.

"It used to be taboo to move from San Francisco to Los Angeles if you were in tech," said Dowdle.

Mehta lived for two years in San Francisco and says it would not have made sense to start his consumer-focused tech company, which sells customized astrological candles there.

"San Francisco is not a very culturally in-touch city." Mehta said. "Everyone is working on a SaaS [software as a service] company. They're not working on companies that are tapping into culture."

Elizabeth Skube, head of communications at Openpath Security Inc, relocated from San Francisco to Venice last month. She says she "fully hated San Francisco" but did not consider moving to L.A. until the pandemic because she worried it would hinder her career in tech. "I never thought of L.A. in that way," said Skube. "I thought I had to be in San Francisco."

But that mindset is changing. James Beshara, former director of product at Airbnb who's now an angel investor, had been eyeing moving from San Francisco to L.A. for some time after seeing more of his founder friends go south. "COVID just accelerated a move that I had been thinking about for a few years now," he said.

Beshara predicts there will continue to be a snowball effect from more founders and investors setting up shop in L.A.

"The lifestyle choice of living in a coastal city with amazing weather and it being such a creative hub is going to lead to even more creatives wanting to live here," he said, while adding that moving to L.A. still does carry a degree of stigma in the tech community. "As soon as I announced moving here, it was like I was plugged into so many private conversations of founders wanting to move down here that have been keeping it a secret."

It's always been a short flight to San Francisco, but Beshara says now that investors have gotten used to doing so much business that does not require face-to-face meetings, he worries even less about staying in contact with his Bay Area network, which is still the tech nexus after all.

"I interact with them daily via text, email, Facetime, Zoom and Twitter just as much as I did in San Francisco," Beshara said. "But now I get to do that from a sunny location with a beach across the street."


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AI Is Undergoing Some Growing Pains at a Pivotal Moment in Its Development

Lon Harris
Lon Harris is a contributor to dot.LA. His work has also appeared on ScreenJunkies, RottenTomatoes and Inside Streaming.
AI Is Undergoing Some Growing Pains at a Pivotal Moment in Its Development
Evan Xie

One way to measure just how white-hot AI development has become: the world is running out of the advanced graphics chips necessary to power AI programs. While Intel central processing units were once the most sought-after industry leaders, advanced graphics chips like Nvidia’s are designed to run multiple computations simultaneously, a baseline necessity for many AI models.

An early version of ChatGPT required around 10,000 graphics chips to run. By some estimates, newer updates require 3-5 times that amount of processing power. As a result of this skyrocketing demand, shares of Nvidia have jumped 165% so far this year.

Building on this momentum, this week, Nvidia revealed a line-up of new AI-related projects including an Israeli supercomputer project and a platform utilizing AI to help video game developers. For smaller companies and startups, however, getting access to the vital underlying technology that powers AI development is already becoming less about meritocracy and more about “who you know.” According to the Wall Street Journal, Elon Musk scooped up a valuable share of server space from Oracle this year before anyone else got a crack at it for his new OpenAI rival, X.AI.

The massive demand for Nvidia-style chips has also created a lucrative secondary market, where smaller companies and startups are often outbid by larger and more established rivals. One startup founder compares the fevered crush of the current chip marketplace to toilet paper in the early days of the pandemic. For those companies that don’t get access to the most powerful chips or enough server space in the cloud, often the only remaining option is to simplify their AI models, so they can run more efficiently.

Beyond just the design of new AI products, we’re also at a key moment for users and consumers, who are still figuring out what sorts of applications are ideal for AI and which ones are less effective, or potentially even unethical or dangerous. There’s now mounting evidence that the hype around some of these AI tools is reaching a lot further than the warnings about its drawbacks.

JP Morgan Chase is training a new AI chatbot to help customers choose financial securities and stocks, known as IndexGPT. For now, they insist that it’s purely supplemental, designed to advise and not replace money managers, but it may just be a matter of time before job losses begin to hit financial planners along with everyone else.

A lawyer in New York just this week was busted by a judge for using ChatGPT as part of his background research. When questioned by the judge, lawyer Peter LoDuco revealed that he’d farmed out some research to a colleague, Steven A. Schwartz, who had consulted with ChatGPT on the case. Schwartz was apparently unaware that the AI chatbot was able to lie – transcripts even show him questioning ChatGPT’s responses and the bot assuring him that these were, in fact, real cases and citations.

New research by Marucie Jakesch, a doctoral student from Cornell University, suggests that even users who are more aware than Schwartz about how AI works and its limitations may still be impacted in subtle and subconscious ways by its output.

Not to mention, according to data from Intelligent.com, high school and college students already – on the whole – prefer utilizing ChatGPT for help with schoolwork over a human tutor. The survey also notes that advanced students tend to report getting more out of using ChatGPT-type programs than beginners, likely because they have more baseline knowledge and can construct better and more informative prompts.

But therein lies the big drawback to using ChatGPT and other AI tools for education. At least so far, they’re reliant on the end user writing good prompts and having some sense about how to organize a lesson plan for themselves. Human tutors, on the other hand, have a lot of personal experience in these kinds of areas. Someone who instructs others in foreign languages professionally probably has a good inherent sense of when you need to focus on expanding your vocabulary vs. drilling certain kinds of verb and tense conjugations. They’ve helped many other students prepare for tests, quizzes, and real-world challenges, while computer software can only guess at what kinds of scenarios its proteges will face.

A recent Forbes editorial by academic Thomas Davenport suggests that, while AI is getting all the hype right now, other forms of computing or machine learning are still going to be more effective for a lot of basic tasks. From a marketing perspective in 2023, it’s helpful for a tech company to throw the “AI” brand around, but it’s not magically going to be the answer for every problem.

Davenport points to a similar (if smaller) whirlwind of excitement around IBM’s “Watson” in the early 2010s, when it was famously able to take out human “Jeopardy!’ champions. It turns out, Watson was a general knowledge engine, really best suited for jobs like playing “Jeopardy.” But after the software gained celebrity status, people tried to use it for all sorts of advanced applications, like designing cancer drugs or providing investment advice. Today, few people turn to Watson for these kinds of solutions. It’s just the wrong tool for the job. In that same way, Davenport suggests that generative AI is in danger of being misapplied.

While the industry and end users both race to solve the AI puzzle in real time, governments are also feeling pressure to step in and potentially regulate the AI industry. This is much easier said than done, though, as politicians face the same kinds of questions and uncertainty as everyone else.

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman has been calling for governments to begin regulating AI, but just this week, he suggested that the company might pull out of the European Union entirely if the regulations were too onerous. Specifically, Altman worries that attempts to narrow what kinds of data can be used to train AI systems – specifically blocking copyrighted material – might well prove impossible. “If we can comply, we will, and if we can’t, we’ll cease operating,” Altman told Time. “We will try, but there are technical limits to what’s possible.” (Altman has already started walking this threat back, suggesting he has no immediate plans to exit the EU.)

In the US, The White House has been working on a “Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights,” but it’s non-binding, just a collection of largely vague suggestions. It’s one thing to agree “consumers shouldn’t face discrimination from an algorithm” and “everyone should be protected from abusive data practices and have agency over how their data is used.” But enforcement is an entirely different animal. A lot of these issues already exist in tech, and are much larger than AI, and the US government already doesn’t do much about them.

Additionally, it’s possible AI regulations won’t work well at all if they aren’t global. Even if you set some policies and get an entire nation’s government to agree, how to set similar worldwide protocols? What if US and Europe agree but India doesn’t? Everyone around the world accesses roughly the same internet, so without any kind of international standard, it’s going to be much harder for individual nations to enforce specific rules. As with so many other AI developments, there’s inherent danger in patchwork regulations; it could allow some companies, or regions, or players to move forward while others are unfairly or ineffectively stymied or held back.

The same kinds of socio-economic concerns around AI that we have nationally – some sectors of the work force left behind, the wealthiest and most established players coming in to the new market with massive advantages, the rapid spread of misinformation – are all, in actuality, global concerns. Just as the hegemony of Microsoft and Google threaten the ability of new players to enter the AI space, the West’s early dominance of AI tech threatens to push out companies and innovations from emerging markets like Southeast Asia, Subsaharan Africa, and Central America. Left unfettered, AI could potentially deepen social, economic, and digital divisions both within and between all of these societies.

Undaunted, some governments aren’t waiting around for these tools to develop any further before they start attempting to regulate them. New York City has already set up some rules about how AI can be used during the hiring process while will take effect in July. The law requires any company using AI software in hiring to notify candidates that it’s being used, and to have independent auditors check the system annually for bias.

This sort of piecemeal figure-it-out-as-we-go approach is probably what’s going to be necessary, at least short-term, as AI development shows zero signs of slowing down or stopping any time soon. Though there’s some disagreement among experts, most analysts agree with Wharton professor and economist Jeremy Siegel, who told CNBC this week that AI is not yet a bubble. He pointed to the Nvidia earnings as a sign the market remains healthy and not overly frothy. So, at least for now, the feverish excitement around AI is not going to burst like a late ‘90s startup stock. The world needs to prepare as if this technology is going to be with us for a while.

What the Future of Rivian Looks Like According to CEO RJ Scaringe

David Shultz

David Shultz reports on clean technology and electric vehicles, among other industries, for dot.LA. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Outside, Nautilus and many other publications.

What the Future of Rivian Looks Like According to CEO RJ Scaringe

Rivian CEO RJ Scaringe took to Instagram last weekend to answer questions from the public about his company and its future. Topics covered included new colors, sustainability, production ramp, new products and features. Speaking of which, viewers also got a first look at the company’s much-anticipated R2 platform, albeit made of clay and covered by a sheet, but hey, that’s…something. If you don’t want to watch the whole 33 minute video, which is now also on Youtube, we’ve got the highlights for you.

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College Grads Are Turning Their Backs on the Tech Industry

Lon Harris
Lon Harris is a contributor to dot.LA. His work has also appeared on ScreenJunkies, RottenTomatoes and Inside Streaming.
College Grads Are Turning Their Backs on the Tech Industry
Evan Xie

A new report in Bloomberg suggests that younger workers and college graduates are moving away from tech as the preferred industry in which to embark on their careers. While big tech companies and startups once promised skilled young workers not just the opportunity to develop cutting-edge, exciting products, but also perks and – for the most talented and ambitious newcomers – a relatively reliable path to wealth. (Who could forget the tales of overnight Facebook millionaires that fueled the previous dot com explosion? There were even movies about it!)

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